Happy New Year, The Second Amendment, And Private Messaging

There is wisdom in the second amendment of the constitution of the United States of America. A key motivation was to allow people to defend themselves against an oppressive government. Back when it was formulated, self-defense meant bearing firearms, which seems quaint today given that a government could came after you with tanks and drones. So, beyond a narrow U.S. legal interpretation, the amendment needs interpretation in a modern context. As such, it is of relevance to the world at large.

What does the right to self-defense against a potentially oppressive government mean?

In today’s networked society, the right to self-defense implies a right to freedom from unwanted surveillance, enabling self-organization. One consequence (of many) is that citizens should have a right to private electronic communication. A challenge is how to make this happen without governmental support, given that an important part of this is protecting yourself from a potentially overbearing government.

Community open source and modern enterprises provide an answer, but one needs to look closely.

  • Community open source is open source that is developed by a diverse community (often for many different interests) and in the open. This ensures transparency and avoids any one party from taking over the project. Anything else, in particular the dominance of the project by one company, opens the door to abuse.
  • Enterprises are needed to operate services that make community open source possible, for example, repository hosting. This works, if the provision of the service is secondary to the main income stream but an important pillar of it (read: letting Github improve their product by learning from free open source hosting).

Of particular interest to me in 2018 was private messaging. I have grown uneasy about my use of WhatsApp and WeChat. I have long been using Signal, but not enough of my friends and partners use it. So I was happy to see that Brian Acton, now-retired founder of WhatsApp, spent $50M on setting up the Signal Foundation to support the development of Signal. I dislike the dependence of the Signal project on one commercial sponsor, Open Whisper Systems, but for now I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt.

My new year’s resolution is to get away from WhatsApp and onto Signal and other alternatives.

Happy new year to everyone!

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